'Living legend' Dhoni set for World Cup

India head coach Ravi Shastri rubbishes concerns over wicketkeeper's future in international white-ball cricket

India's "living legend" MS Dhoni is firmly part of the country's 2019 World Cup planning and remains the best wicketkeeper the country, says head coach Ravi Shastri.

The 36-year-old has endured regular questioning over his longevity in the international game, in part a side-effect of his sudden and unexpected retirement from Test cricket in the wake of the 2014 Boxing Day Test against Australia.

And a lean run in this year's Champions Trophy saw India's chief selector MSK Prasad say he "will have to look at alternatives", prompting national outrage.

But Dhoni has been at his best against Sri Lanka, with India seeking a 5-0 sweep on Sunday evening, and the veteran gloveman has yet to be dismissed in the series. His three knocks have yielded 45*, 67* and the 49* he hit in his 300th ODI on Thursday.

Further questioning about Dhoni's future from the Indian press pack prompted Shastri to launch into an impassioned defence of Indian cricket's spiritual leader.

"MS Dhoni is a massive influence on the team. He is a living legend in the dressing room and an ornament to the game," Shastri said.

"By no means or by any stretch of imagination is he finished or even half finished yet. If anyone thinks so, they are mistaken and they have another one coming. They are in for some surprises. The old dog has plenty to offer.

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"Dhoni is the best limited-overs keeper in the country. Forget his batting stats, what else do you want. Just because he has played for so many years, you are thinking about a replacement?

"He is the best in the country. Would you look to replace Sunil Gavaskar when he was 36 years old or Sachin Tendulkar when he was 36? Dhoni is still the best in the business, so what is the need to even entertain those thoughts?"

Shastri said that India would continue to use the ODI format to experiment with combinations and trial players with one eye always on the World Cup, starting with this month's series against Australia, the dates of which have yet to be officially confirmed by the BCCI.

"ODIs are where we will experiment, winning and losing will not matter so much," Shastri said.

"Of course, you play to win but we have to try all possible combinations. It is a long way to go until the World Cup and we want to take one series at a time.

"The endeavour will be to rotate the players giving everyone enough opportunity so that when we have 12-15 months to go for the World Cup, we have a nucleus of about 18-20 players in place.

"Obviously, form will be important before that too, but the nucleus will be pretty much in place."

Declaring India "want the best fielding side on the park" he said an emphasis on fitness would be ruthlessly applied, regardless of reputation or record.

"We want the best fielding side on the park. That's it," the coach said. "So how do you become the best fielding side on the park? Fitness. And that's why there have been parameters set.

"When there are parameters put in place and that's the vision of the team, then everyone has to fit into those parameters. It is as simple as that."

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A dominant force at home, and on the verge of a sweep of their series with Sri Lanka, Shastri says winning abroad with regularity is within reach for his team.

"If you look at world cricket today, there is not one team in the world that travels well. Not a single one, but India can be that team, and we are already doing it bit by bit," Shastri said.

"If you look at last three years, we are starting to travel well. We won the ODI series in England in 2014. We whitewashed Australia (in a T20 series in early 2016), and I don't even remember which team has ever done that in Australia.

"We have back-to-back series (wins) here in Sri Lanka. We won the Asia Cup last year. So this young side has already had a lot of 'firsts' overseas."

Pace bowler Ishant Sharma – who celebrates his 29th birthday today – is the latest India player to head to England's County Championship in a bid for familiarity with local conditions.

"I am all for that. (Cheteshwar) Pujara, (Ravi) Ashwin and now Ishant is also going; I think he is joining Kent. These are vital and key players in our team. The more the players go, the merrier," Shastri said.

"I would like to see a couple more of fast bowlers going there. Zaheer Khan went there for a couple seasons to Worcestershire and he was a changed bowler. So I would love to see Umesh Yadav or Mohammed Shami going there, even if for short periods.

"And why just the bowlers, the batsmen should go too. If they want to before the tour, be it Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma or others, I am all for it."